In the summer of 2014, the Yankees decided to try a new strategy to bring talent into their middling farm system using an old standby: their financial might. They far exceeded the typical international spending limits, bringing in 10 of the players ranked in Baseball America and MLB.com's top 30 prospects in addition to a couple more. They spent $14 million on the first day and never looked back. Although they will probably rue the day former executive/gardener Felix Lopez botched the Yoan Moncada negotiations, they still added an impressive haul.
It has now been over a year since those prospects were signed, and updates on them are scarce since many of them are simply not even stateside yet, in the Dominican Summer League (DSL). Almost everyone else is at the Yankees' spring training complex with one of the Gulf Coast League affiliates in Rookie ball. The team likes to guard information about prospects, particularly ones so far away from the big leagues. Nonetheless, it's worth investigating these players who could very well end up being integral to the franchise a few years down the road.
Juan De Leon
A Dominican righthanded hitting outfielder who turns 18 in September, De Leon was ranked 2nd overall by Baseball America and 5th by MLB.com, and he signed with the Yankees for a cool $2 million. Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs posted a video of De Leon and also called him "his favorite prospect" of the Yankees' additions, noting that he "has very quick hands, with easy plus bat speed and arm strength to go with above average foot speed and power potential." In 53 DSL games this year, De Leon is hitting .226/.344/.366 with a wRC+ just above league average. MLB.com has him 23rd in the Yankees' system already and said that he has a 55 hit tool with equal grades in power and running. Don't be alarmed by the DSL numbers; he's been known for making very hard contact and he's obviously still maturing at the plate. Also, he trains with a well-regarded trainer nicknamed "Banana." So there's that.
Yankees Prospect Dermis Garcia, Whalers Founder Brandon Kurz, & Former Pro Reyes D'Oleo at the Whalers Winter Workout pic.twitter.com/NazRkXJM4O— Long Island Whalers (@WhalersBaseball) December 13, 2014
MLB.com's cream of the international crop on July 2nd last year, the third baseman doesn't even turn 18 until next January. The Yankees gave the Dominican righty $3 million to sign, more than they gave anyone else in their international class. Although MLB.com put him #1, Baseball America just had him in the top ten at 9th overall. An imposing figure already at 6'3", 200 pounds, he has tremendous raw power, with a 60 grade thrown on him before the 2015 season, and the Yankees thought enough of their 24th ranked prospect to skip the Dominican Summer League entirely. Garcia is only hitting .141/.247/.172 in the GCL, but again, he's only 17 and he just made his stateside debut on July 24th. While he has a lot of work to do developing his "stiff swing" beyond the power and shaky defense at third base, it's easy to see the potential in Garcia.
Add another very young shortstop to watch in the Yankees' organization. A 17-year-old now, Garcia had just turned 16 a couple months before Baseball America's 7th ranked prospect signed with the Bronx Bombers for $1.35 million. MLB.com had the Venezuelan native several spots behind at #14, but he's been off to a solid start in pro ball, spending just a couple games in the DSL before moving stateside, where he has hit an above-average .276/.383/.336 in 35 games since July 1st. Baseball America international writer Ben Badler even noted that some scouts actually prefer Garcia to the Yankees' top shortstop prospect, Jorge Mateo, which is certainly lofty praise. That being said, Perfect Game's Chris King added that his tools looked more "fringy" in-game, and prior to the season, McDaniel said that he didn't have any flashy tools; he was only "solid across the board." Nonetheless, fans should keep their eyes on "the Wilkerman."
This is Nelson Gomez. The Yankees signed him for $2.25 million this summer. I don't know how he wears hats. pic.twitter.com/PZK0uGXvbS— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) December 18, 2014
First off: dat hair.
More importantly, Gomez was highly thought of by both MLB.com (#2) and Baseball America (#6) when the Yankees signed him for $2.25 million last July. Dubbed by some evaluators as "the best hitter in the [MLB-wide] class," Gomez was given 60 hit and power tools, and they've been on display in the DSL this year. He's leading the league with 11 homers, batting .243/.350/.435 with a crazy 55 RBI in 58 games. Obviously, the RBI stat is dependent on him coming up in the fortunate opportunities with runners on base, but it's hard to completely ignore a figure that high. Scouts are already high on his plate discipline and though he's large at 6'2", 219 pounds, they think his defensive game at third base will improve as well--he's equipped with a terrific arm, too.
MLB.com's 7th ranked prospect was born in Maturin, Venezuela on May 11, 1998. Six days later and over 2,000 miles away, David Wells threw his perfect game. The outfielder was given $1.5 million to sign, and some felt that he was the best Venezuelan native in the class due to his potential to "do everything well" with solid defense and power behind him. MLB's report compared Amundaray to a young Raul Mondesi, but it also noted that unlike Mondesi, evaluators thought he had a very positive presence on the field. McDaniel noted that in the instructional leagues last Fall, he showed some nice swing mechanics, too. Amundaray got off to a slow start in 13 DSL games and hasn't played since the end of June due to a publicly unknown injury. Don't forget him.
The elder statesman of the Yankees' 2014 international class at 19 years old, the South Korean shortstop was recently profiled by Josh Norris at Baseball America in the middle of his debut season with the Advanced Rookie ball Pulaski Yankees. They gave him $1.2 million, and he's already cracked MLB.com's top 20 Yankees prospects while batting .246/.352/.402 with a 113 wRC+ and "tremendous athleticism" at shortstop. His manager, former Trenton Thunder skipper Tony Franklin, said "I think he can see things before they happen and I think that bodes well for him playing the shortstop position. He’s very instinctive, and I like every bit about him out there at shortstop."
The ball sounds terrific off his bat, and though his hit tool is higher than his power, it's hard not to dream at least a little bit about that lefty swing at Yankee Stadium. He's behind Mateo on the Yankees' minor league shortstop depth chart, but expect Park to at least nab Mateo's old position in Low-A Charleston early next year.
There are some pretty terrific names in this class, but it's hard to beat Flames. Trying to do that is like playing with fire.
Atrocious jokes aside, Flames is a damn exciting hitter, having already been profiled by Baseball America for his DSL exploits. The Venezuelan signed for $1.1 million as a catcher, but he's mostly played first base this season, which is not too much of a surprise since there were already questions about his ability to last behind the plate. He was originally a third baseman though, so he could still be learning to catch behind the scenes even though he hasn't caught in over a month. Regardless of where Baseball America's 16th ranked prospect ends up, he'll turn 18 on September 14th and he is crushing the DSL to the tune of a .317/.398/.454 triple slash, a 142 wRC+. In the above report, Badler said that Flames has "advanced" pitch recognition and strike zone management with developing power. Expect some fun when he comes stateside next year.
Lastly, here are some quick updates on the Yankees' other big international signings who were mentioned on the Baseball America signing tracker:
|Name||Position||DOB||Bonus||BA rank||MLB rank||Level||Stats||Comment|
|Brayan Emery||OF||3/15/1998||$500K||23||29||DSL||61 G, .192/.330/.308, 92 wRC+||Switch-hitter, "Big power, size, athleticism, arm."|
|Diego Castillo||SS||10/28/1997||$750K||24||16||DSL||56 G, .331/.373/.444, 130 wRC+||"Advanced skills over tools Venezuelan shortstop."|
|Antonio Arias||OF||6/12/1998||$800K||28||9||DSL||39 G, .235/.316/.316, 87 wRC+||"Resembles Cameron Maybin."|
|Raymundo Moreno||OF||3/9/1998||$600K||N/A||N/A||DSL||6 G, 1-for-15||"Has good bat speed & gap power from the right side."|
|Servando Hernandez||RHP||1998||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||Contract with $200K bonus voided.|
|Frederick Cuevas||OF||10/27/1997||$300K||N/A||N/A||DSL||57 G, .256/.376/.365, 117 wRC+||"Has performed well at the plate with gap power."|
The future looks promising with all of these young players in the system, and there is still a fine chance someone else who wasn't signed for as much shoots through the minors and surprises, like Luis Severino. (McDaniel reported on 15 other players who signed, making 27 total.) These teenagers probably won't hit the Bronx until maybe 2019 at best, but the 2014 international signing extravaganza could go down as one of the smartest moves in team history. Although it's a big "could," it's always fun to dream.